You probably know that at least two documented miracles are required for anyone to achieve sainthood in the Catholic church, and that sometimes those miracles are pretty bizarre.
But I haven’t found one wonkier than “The miracle of the pilchards” that was used to raise Aquinas to “St. Thomas” in the Catholic pantheon.
Alert reader Grania, an ex-Catholic, sent me a YouTube clip of the “QI” show hosted by Stephen Fry, which apparently specializes in esoteric knowledge. If you watch the clip at the link, you’ll see, a few minutes in, a discussion about a fish-related miracle used to canonize Thomas Aquinas.
I found this hard to believe, but, sure enough, the internet has the document used to support Thomas’s canonization in 1319, a 19-page screed (when printed out in 12-point Times font) called “The Sanctity and Miracles of St. Thomas Aquinas; From the First Canonisation Enquiry“. The examination of miracles apparently took place at the Archbishop’s Palace in Naples from July 21 to September 18, 1319.
And, sure enough, The Miracle of the Pilchards is in section IX:
IX. Asked if he knew of other miracles attributed to brother Thomas, the witness said that he had heard of many; and in particular that when Thomas lay sick in the castle of Maenza and was urged to eat something, he answered, ‘I would eat fresh herrings, if I had some.’ Now it happened that a pedlar called just then with salted fish. He was asked to open his baskets, and one was found full of fresh herrings, though it had contained only salted fish. But when the herrings were brought to Thomas, he would not eat them.The witness spoke too of a Master Reginald, a cripple, who was cured at the tomb of brother Thomas. Asked how he knew of these two miracles, he replied that that about the fish he had from brother William of Tocco, prior of the Friar Preachers at Benevento, who himself had it from several people at Maenza, where the event occurred. The other story he had from brother Octavian (mentioned above) who averred that he had seen it happen. And in the monastery these miracles were common knowledge.
Thomas didn’t even have the moxie to eat the fresh herrings that God created for him!
There you have the standard of miracles the Catholic authorities consider dispositive. Thomas apparently didn’t work or inspire many miracles in his life, so they had to use incidents from the bottom of the [fish] barrel. Note, too, that this one is documented third hand.
This is an example of what biologist J. B. S. Haldane called “Aunt Jobisca’s Theorem” (from “The Pobble who had No Toes” by Edward Lear), the theorem being: “It’s a fact the whole world knows.” Have a look at Haldane’s other theorems here.
There are many other miracles for St. Thomas, too. Here’s one more:
LX. Asked concerning miracles worked by brother Thomas, in life or after death, the witness gave the following as an example of those commonly remembered among the Friar Preachers. Once, at Paris, Thomas, on rising in the morning, found that one of his teeth had grown in a way that hindered him in his speech. He had to conclude a public disputation that morning; so there was nothing for it, he thought, but to set himself to prayer. So he went and prayed, and after a while the tooth fell into his hand. He showed it to Reginald; and afterwards he used to carry it about as a reminder of God’s goodness to him.